Pondera Medical Center Memorial Garden

With inspiration and dedication provided by JoAnne Cobb—the life enrichment manager at Pondera Medical Center (PMC)—and money provided through Pondera County Conservation District mini grants and DNRC 223 funds, the PMC Memorial Garden has grown from a bare field to an all-out flower and vegetable garden. Located behind the long-term care center in Conrad, the area now functions as a garden for food, a therapy place for residents, an educational tool for local elementary students, and as forage and habitat for pollinators.

The project began in 2012 as a wish by an employee at PMC to see a garden built for residents to enjoy. In the first year, a sidewalk was built which—through pure happenstance—looked strikingly similar to a butterfly. JoAnne picked up on the vision in 2014 and expanded it to an area with flower beds that could serve as a gathering place for residents of PMC. A few families were recruited to help put in flower beds and maintain them, fostering interaction between the community and the nursing home residents. The seeds that would become strawberries, flowers, and the vegetable garden were purchased through several $500 mini grants from the Pondera County Conservation District.

As the garden developed, NRCS, Pondera County CD, Montana Salinity Control, and local citizens collaborated to give annual workshops for the Conrad 4th graders. The 4th grade class now comes to plant the vegetable garden in the spring each year and learn about natural resource issues from the different organizations involved. The students return as 5th graders and harvest what they planted and interact with the PMC residents. The garden’s bounty has gone on to win ribbons at the fair, to be used as a means to teach kids to make food preserves, and been incorporated into baked goods for the medical center.

The Pondera County Conservation District played an instrumental role in the development and sponsorship of the grants that made this project possible. With the CD’s help and a $15,000 DNRC 223 grant, this once barren field has been furthered fleshed out with four flower and shrub beds, a Montana native plant garden, a vegetable garden, and a strawberry patch. A second $5,000 DNRC grant will provide educational materials and finishing touches to the gardens. The introduction of this diverse plant life makes more forage available for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Birds have also been frequent visitors to the new habitat.

Quick Facts

Where: Pondera Medical Center Extended Care Facility, Conrad, Pondera County, MT
What:

  • Started as a bare field adjacent to hay and clover fields
  • Became a vegetable garden, strawberry patch, Montana native plant garden, and 4 pollinator-friendly beds with flowers, shrubs, and trees
  • Serves as educational resource, community gathering place as well as pollinator forage and habitat

How:

  • Funding from Conservation District Education Mini Grants ($500)
  • Funding from Conservation District “HB223” Grant ($15,000 and $5,000) through DNRC
  • Memorial funds donated in honor of local citizens
  • Many hours of volunteering to plan, plant, and maintain all the gardens and raised beds

Beyond the challenges of a cold winter, an initial lack of an irrigation system, and busy schedules for the organizers, development of the pollinator garden faced doubts from others. There were doubts about having the time and experience to carry out the project. Fortunately, resources and people with experience are readily available to help with conservation efforts like this one. Various organizations like NRCS, DNRC, and local conservation districts can all lend a hand.

If you have a pollinator project that you want to undertake but aren’t sure how to proceed, contact your local conservation district and NRCS office for suggestions on plant selection and planting instruction. Consider partnering with your local conservation district and contacting DNRC to receive funding support. With your help, pollinator forage and habit can expand and improve, one planting at a time.